Ed Grisamore

Gris: To teach is to change the world

WARNER ROBINS -- The blackboard from her first classroom is long gone, returned to the chalk dust from whence it came.

It should be in a museum, though. There aren’t many teachers still calling roll after 45 years, even fewer so loyal they have taught every one of those years at the same school.

Pam Stanescu is retiring at the end of May. She has taught English and history at Warner Robins High School since August 1969. That was the summer Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the summer of Woodstock.

“My hair was long and straight and halfway down my back -- as long as I could grow it,” she said. “My skirts were no longer than my fingertips and, to complete my ensemble, I wore white vinyl boots with tassels. I was absolutely convinced I was dressed professionally.”

She couldn’t understand why her principal, Joe Williamson, kept confusing her with the students.

Much has changed. Her hair is now shorter and the dresses longer. The AARP has been chasing her around for almost two decades. She will be 68 in July.

She works with teachers she once taught as teenagers. She looks across her classroom at the young faces. Some of their parents had her as a teacher and, a few years ago, even a grandparent.

One thing has not changed.

She believes she has a moral obligation to make a difference in the lives of those she has been entrusted to teach.

“I know that I can change the world from my classroom,” she said.

Pam has been a STAR teacher so many times (six) she should have her own constellation. She helped start the gifted program in Houston County and has been honored as Georgia Gifted Teacher of the Year. She was the first in the system to teach Advanced Placement courses in U.S. and European history.

She helped lead Warner Robins High to designation as a Georgia School of Excellence in 1990. She was inducted into the Houston County Teachers Hall of Fame in April 2013.

The list rolls down the track like a long train. She is a legend. There are those who claim she has taught half of Warner Robins, although that’s a stretch.

But not by much.

Her principal, Steve Monday, affectionately calls her “Momma.”

“I want a T-shirt with “Momma S” on the front and ‘Over 4,000 Reared’ on the back,” she said, laughing.

Pam grew up the daughter of a Methodist minister, so her family moved so many times there was hardly time for supper to get cold on the table.

“I had never lived anywhere more than four years and, sometimes only a year,” she said. “To teach at the same school in the same community for 45 years was inconceivable to me. It also has been my greatest blessing.”

She always wanted to be a teacher. As a little girl, she lined up her dolls and taught school and Sunday School. She practiced on her younger brothers.

The year 1965 was a touchstone in her life. Her father and older brother went to Selma to march with Martin Luther King Jr. She graduated from Macon’s Miller High School in the spring and started classes at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta in the fall.

She returned to Macon her senior year to do her student teaching, which provided an interesting dilemma. At the time, Bibb schools not only were segregated by race but also by gender.

She had attended an all-girls school, Miller, and Agnes Scott was an all-women’s college. It was a culture shock to walk into a classroom for her first assignment and see boys at every desk. It made her grateful for all the training on her little brothers.

Pam was hired the following year at Warner Robins, and her journey of growth began. She especially appreciates two of her principals -- Joe Smith and Tony Hinnant. They reined her in when her unconventional teaching methods got out of control. And they gave her a long leash as they recognized her gifts and enormous passion.

She married Vincent Stanescu on Valentine’s Day in 1970. For many years, he was known as the “Movie Man” around town. He ran the Rama and Plaza theaters and the old M&T Drive-In on Ignico Drive. They have three children.

Although she “retired” in 2008, she has been teaching part-time for the past seven years. On St. Patrick’s Day in 2001, she and her husband suffered severe and debilitating injuries in an automobile accident on Interstate 85 in Atlanta.

She always thought she might teach until she was 70. But her husband’s health problems have hastened her decision to leave the classroom, although she wants to continue her work training young teachers.

Pam has thought a lot about her “last lecture.” After giving her students so much for so long, what will she leave them with?

“The one thing I would wish for every student is resilience,” she said. “You have no idea what life will do to you. You have to have a way of coming back and making sure you have a life, no matter what happens.”

She also asks them to put away criticism and negativity and be aware of the worth and dignity of every person.

And she wants her students to recognize the greatness within them. She believes it is her job to pull it out, while raising the bar of expectations.

She begins every class with the same words. They are not rehearsed. They are heartfelt.

Great and glorious human beings, how glad I am to see you.

What joy it gives my heart to have you here today.

Let’s be brilliant.

Contact Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.